Silver Lining Syndrome

Key West, FL

Fourteen story cruise ships loom over the tiny island like high rises. Everything here is a palm tree.

Geckos, pelicans, squillions of turtles, roosters, ibises, a macaw, six-toed cats, flamboyantly-attired bugs.

I am delirious.

I arrived at SFO with three hours to spare before departure. One cut-open and re-taped 68-pound bike box, one unpacked duffel bag, $150 in fees, several reviews of print-out policies and diplomatic discussions with supervisors later, and I managed to elicit enough sympathy of a deadpan bureaucrat for him to conjure up a creative solution to the fact that their computer system wouldn't let me check my bag. At several points I was pretty much convinced it wasn’t going to happen. 

Against a backdrop of rain and lightning uncharacteristic in the Bay, I said my goodbyes to Alex and Nathan who were both there to see me off.

Then there were other trifling incidents on my way to the gate: I must have grabbed my expired license instead of my current one on my way out the door [d'oh] and the TSA guys were convinced that there was something in my left pocket [there wasn't—nor was I happy to see them]. Two hours after arriving, I got through security checkpoint, somewhat frazzled.

My flight was delayed, which was fine by me. I dragged myself into the nearest airport bar and wound up ruthlessly bantering with an exceptionally handsome lawyer [he looked strikingly like a young Hemingway] who was sporting a black eye.

About three hours of sleep later [couldn’t get back to sleep after my layover in Atlanta] and I was spat out of Key West airport, blinking wearily at the sun.

Since then I've repeatedly been punk'd by serendipity and boggled at others' generosity. Must be Silver Lining Syndrome or something. Or the Universe is trying to teach me that I shouldn't bother trying to plan anything, ever.

Exhibit A: Every single one of my several hosting options had fallen through or gone MIA at the last minute. My arrival coincided with spring break, so finding a hotel or even campsite at such a late stage would not only be expensive, but possibly quite difficult. And I had a giant box with a disassembled bike, and all my gear, and nowhere to put them or reassemble them. I didn't really know what I was going to do [hide myself and all my crap behind a bush for the night?], but shit felt dire.

Silver lining: A friend I made during my brief stop in Shanghai last year got in touch out of the blue, and it came up that he had US hotel points that he couldn't use and that were about to expire. So I wound up with a free night at a deluxe king suite at the Hyatt, with a balcony drooping right over the shoreline; below me were beached humans flopping on the sand in front of a musician with comically poor taste in covers. I looked at them and thought: If I knew anyone here, I could easily host a fifteen-or-so people shindig and still have wiggle room. What a crazy amount of space and luxury to waste on one person.

I got on with it. Little toy cars and fake choochoo trains and pedicabs rolled by as I quaffed black coffee in a cafe patio done up in bamboo and rope, digesting a lobster and shrimp omelette, and I felt compelled by the weather—76 and all undiluted sunshine—to change into something froofroo and skimpy for a change. I wandered to the Hemingway house [which was lovely and frothing with cats, many of which were polydactyls].

Then I holed up in my room to try and figure out my bike situation, so I would be mobile and unencumbered the following day. I planned to get that out of the way, then maybe nap, then reemerge a bit before sunset and get up to shenanigans.

Exhibit B: What actually happened is that I spent six delirious sleep-deprived hours in that room trying to reassemble my bike and going bonkers, realizing I was missing essential bolts, realizing just how poorly designed my front rack was...not to mention pretty much incompatible with my frame. I attempted to jerry-rig solutions with hair ties, with limited success. The horror.

Around 8 or 9 pm I gave up. I didn't know what I was going to do...ask the guys up front if they could hold onto my giant box and see if I could bribe a bike mechanic to help me bring it to a shop? If there was a shop. Everything I looked up was geared towards cruiser rentals for tourists. But I knew I was done making decisions for a while. I resigned myself to exploring the alleged Key West party scene, though I wasn't feeling very chipper by that point. I wandered Duval Street aimlessly [it struck me as a beachy cousin of Bourbon Street]. I failed to locate oysters before succumbing to hunger and eating conch.

Silver lining: wound up hanging out all damn night with wonderful, fun people. Chilly and Kerry, a local couple who work for a cycle touring company and have gone on a few tours, and Kai, freshly-graduated from high school and four months into his first tour circling around the country from Oregon...

...Moreover, Chilly just opened up a shop in Key West and came by my room the next morning on a promise of coffee to use his mechanical sorcery to get my bike completely set up, and teach me a few things [and conjure up a better front rack]. So, basically, he's a life saver. And quite innovative. Will update with a link when I have one. 

Plus, in a few short hours, I miraculously found people to stick in my gifted-super-fancy-room-for-one-night so I could make better use of the space before giving it up. And to cover in the miles of bubble wrap strewn all over the floor from my bike box, so I could make better use of it before disposing of it.

The one negative takeaway from last night was that, at 4 or 5am, quite drunk, I thought ordering myself room service breakfast for the next morning would be a brilliant idea. I'd never ordered room service before, it had occurred to me. First time for everything! Breakfast in bed!

Mediocre gravlox, mediocre coffee, good-but-very-very-very-small portion of grapefruit juice.

I learned a valuable lesson this morning...and that lesson cost me $40.

Exhibit C: Rode to prospective host's house today. Door had accidentally been locked by a roommate, I could not reach anyone by phone and the house was empty [and my would-be host was working until late, but I didn't know where she worked]. There was Kerry and Chilly's house where I'd just come from, but I'd locked it on my way out and they'd be gone for several hours. I really, really wanted a nap. With nowhere to go, a loaded bike, and no energy, I went and got a key lime pie [well...duh] and Internet for the time being, thinking perhaps I could just slump, unconscious, onto a table in a cafe, and maybe no one would mind.

Silver lining: Wound up being treated to dinner by David, an exceedingly candid, hilarious, fantastic man whom Nathan calls his "fairy godfather" [ahah] whom I'd been advised to meet but hadn't heard from and had given up on meeting. He called, and I was neither asleep on a couch [the original plan], nor with other people, so with what may perhaps have been a bit of initial trepidation on his end, he offered to come get me and feed me. And it was a fit of fantastic conversation and, on my end, copious chuckling.

And now I am set up with with an air mattress thanks to Chilly and Kerry, so all is well!

See what I mean? Some cosmic force disapproves of my attempts to make plans, apparently. 8P

had been planning to leave Key West tomorrow...but I can afford one more day. It deserves another day. Plus, I still haven't given myself a proper opportunity to sleep since getting to Florida [speaking of which...I should get on that right about now]. 8]

Extrapolating on the last few days, but people can be so damn kind, and so immediately authentic. Sure, being smart and funny and charming are also virtues I admire. But really, kindness and candor are so underrated and, in the long run, probably matter a lot more.

Beta Testing Along the SF Peninsula

Photo: Elena Zhukova

Photo: Elena Zhukova

There's a lovey-dovey photo for you.

That's the closest I'm going to get to acknowledging this wacky tradition of expressing our individualistic love by way of cliched, obligatory corporatism and collective bad taste. [In other words, Happy Valentine's Day.]

Hey guys! So I finally went on my first overnight trip, as a way of dipping my toes a bit further into what the "real" trip is actually going to be like.

Day 1
San Jose, CA

As usual, Chaos/Serendipity/The Universe/The Force/what-have-you did a better job planning out my adventures than I ever could have.

Originally I was going to do a big loop up starting in the South Bay, up through the city, over to Sacramento, down through the East Bay. Largely the appeal of this particular route was to visit some good friends. 

Then there was weather, which displaced my trip by two days...which was enough to foster schedule conflicts with all of the friends I intended to visit such that they'd be unable to hang out or in many cases even offer crash space. Mwop, mwop.

But I needed to get at least one practice trip in this month.

So, without much of a plan, Alex and I rode up to Pacifica to stay with Elena Zhukova, a conceptual advertising photographer who's been photographing me since I was a modeling greenhorn and she was an art student in San Francisco [i.e., for a while], and her husband Aleksey.

Barely six miles into the ride, Alex's old tire was shredded, and so I ferociously guarded our bikes while he ran off to get a new tire and tube—a delay that bit an hour or two into our day. There was one stretch so unrelentingly steep that I wound up walking my bike for about a tenth of a mile [cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater]

When we got to the Pacifica, we decompressed for a while, poking at bugs [we found a cluster of maggots outside] and battle droids before being treated to an awesome home-cooked dinner of fish and vegetables, and liberally supplied with beer, wine, and bourbon.

Conversation that evening was punctuated by the hum of the ocean and the crackling of the outdoor heater. I leaned on a pillow stuffed with $15,000 in shredded dollar bills. Eddy the dog leaned on me. It seemed like a first taste of what my trip might turn out to be like on its best days: long mornings of cycling through beautiful country, rewarded in the evenings good food and company and a delicious feeling of satisfaction that was a paradoxical hybrid of "having discovered somewhere new" and "having made it back home"

Day 2
Pacifica, CA

Originally we'd planned to move along the next morning, but it turns out that Aleksey is an avid cyclist, so he offered to take us on a ride the following day around Pacifica and Half Moon Bay!

In one stunning loop, I rode behind Alex and Alex [there are so many Alexes] as we climbed through steep eucalyptus forests, down along Devil's Slide [stopping to explore old military bunkers en route], past surfers on the beach, past helicopters taking off and landing on an airstrip in fields of wildflowers, past the smells of fish and chips and waffles and seaweed, past upscale marinas, through a surreal mountain tunnel, and I had a harrowing first off-road excursion along the edges of sea cliffs. At first I was going kind of picture-crazy, but eventually had to give up on taking photos in favor of just enjoying the view and the present moment [the best moments in life are typically ones when no one has the time or inclination to take photos, anyway].

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 5.32.27 PM.png

That night, we modeled for Elena, resulting in the topmost and bottommost photos in this blog entry. 

...and enjoyed a warm February night and a couple bottles of cold IPA out in the yard.

Day 3
Pacifica, CA

The trek back down to the South Bay, to tend to my neglected inbox and finish planning my much larger trip that's looming ever closer [eep!], was quite educational. 

We'd decided to do a winding, hilly detour along trails in the mountains, which lent themselves both to giving me more practice off paved roads and to stunning panoramic views that I largely didn't bother photographing [was too busy looking]. 

It was in the mountains that I wound up on the phone with an old friend from high school who, it turned out, had scored $10 tickets to the opera Carmen in a small house in San Francisco, and would be heading there from Redwood City [which was more-or-less where we were headed that day]. 

So we bombed down bumpy switchbacks, past equestrians, stopped to grab some fish and chips, coasted along the 92, no problem...and then rush hour hit.

And we were on a steep two-lane highway, with no shoulder, with sheer drop-offs, with blind turns, and we'd gone too far to easily turn back. Hills are one thing, rattlesnakes are one thing, weather is one thing...but cars. Drivers. Those freak me the fuck out. Because, no matter how defensively I ride, no matter how many bright yellow or blinky or reflective things I stick onto myself or my bike, I have no ultimate say in whether the drivers coming up on me are paying attention, or of sound mind, or sober, or whatever. Aggressive, reactive, impatient drivers are all too common. So are absent-minded, text-messaging, daydreaming drivers. And drunk drivers, or sleepy drivers. And drivers zipping around tight corners at 90 MPH. You get the picture. Besides avoiding situations where I'm likely to be hit in the first place, there's really only so much I can do once I'm on the road.

Existentially jarred after almost getting booty-bumped by two semi-trucks in a row, Alex and I pulled off and sat in a patch of grass next to a kitschy old sign that said Santa's Tree Farm, the only distinguishable landmark in sight, debating whether we ought to chug on through and hope for the best, or wait for traffic to die down or, I don't know, hitchhike. After our heart rates settled down we decided to mosey on through, walking our bikes through a few particularly bad stretches.

Lesson learned: be more attentive to traffic patterns and look at my entire route before proceeding, particularly if it's going to be on a highway [before setting off, we'd scanned Google Earth very briefly, seen that a chunk of the 92 had a nice shoulder and four lanes, and called it good]. Hurp dap.

By the time we got to Redwood City, we were a bit exhausted for the opera [even at $10 a pop, it's not all that worthwhile going to a show if you sleep through the whole thing]. Fortunately our buddy Carlos was in town, and facilitated our recalibration to life with Mexican food, card games, and a gift of rum he'd infused with vanilla beans, before we headed off to visit my parents in order to spend the weekend going on bike rides with my dad [whom I'm just now beginning to keep up with].

Final tally for this trip?

104 miles ridden
6,167 feet climbed

Not too shabby for someone who got her ass kicked by a few-hundred-feet climb on a twelve-mile loop just over a month ago!

My improvements have been noticeable on a day-to-day basis, and as time goes on it becomes easier [more exciting, less daunting] for me to motivate myself to push that little bit harder. Thankfully, the beginning of my trip won't involve so much climbing [since my whole route through Florida and Georgia will be pretty much flat].

Two weeks left until my flight, and I've still got so much to figure out!

Tomorrow? Morning yoga, going on a ride [of course] with my dad [he's promised to subject me to some more hills], catching up on emails [I know, I know, I'm really behind—forgive me], studying maintenance/repair/my pack list/my route yet again while not panicking.

Fortunately, I've also got a voucher for one of those wildly underrated $10 cheap foot massage places [and, as a trained massage therapist myself, while I think there's no substitute for deep, specialized, specific body work done by a qualified and intuitive therapist...these cheap line-the-clients-up-in-rows-like-we're-in-an-airplane places can be a whole different kind of awesome to non-snobs, and really are underrated].

Photo: Elena Zhukova

Photo: Elena Zhukova

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Do what scares you.

With Cam Attree at Broken Head, QLD, Australia. Thankfully there was no literal breaking of heads during my cartwheelling frolic.

With Cam Attree at Broken Head, QLD, Australia. Thankfully there was no literal breaking of heads during my cartwheelling frolic.

Reno, NV

The idea for this bike trip first made its entrance in the loft of an industrial artists' warehouse in Melbourne. Like the rogue raindrops sogging the floor, it had probably leaked into the room through one of the broken windows. Meanwhile, Alex and I were asphyxiating ourselves in the vortex of scummy blankets we'd built as a stronghold against the cold.

Our discussion turned to things we'd never done before and wanted to do, and Alex mentioned long-distance biking, particularly from the States through South America. 

I cringed. My mind glued together a collage of disasters: being hit by a car, stranded in the middle of nowhere, assaulted, etc. I admitted that I'd be terrified about doing anything of the kind.

He laughed. "Don't you say that's usually when you should do something?"

"Yeah, but I don't know anything about bikes. I went on little bike rides with my dad when I was a kid, but it's not like I know about anything, not even specs and sizing and all that."

"Well, yeah....Exactly. You could even do it alone. I couldn't afford it."

"And I could?"

"Well, there's modeling. Bike somewhere you've always wanted to visit, with cities you've always wanted to shoot in."

"That's completely insane. A logistical nightmare, just for starters."

Mockingly: "Yeah, you're right....You won't."

Of course, once the idea infected my head, I knew I had to try. And, of course, once I had the conviction to try, Alex began battling his own fears of what might happen to me on the trip [which, after all, were similar to mine—that I might get hit by a car, or assaulted, or stranded, et al]. But he also knows what I need in order to be happy; he knows that I need a bit of self-validating chaos in order to maintain emotional stasis and well-being. That I have to show myself what I can do, in the face of my doubts.

I'm not a stranger to chasing the unfamiliar. Two days ago, we'd found our way to that chilly loft like aimless drivers in the night, headed faithfully along unfamiliar roads in spite of never seeing farther than a few feet ahead.

In fact, one reason I live the way I do is precisely because it's a release valve to the anxiety and fear I'd otherwise harbor. An inclination to skip winter for a year brought us to Southeast Asia, because we didn't have the overhead to visit our friends in New Zealand, and because the idea made me anxious in a visceral way.

Months later, we'd just begun to feel like Baan Mae Haad, a village on the tropical island of Koh Tao, was as much like home as any town we'd lived in, when a sudden whiff of dirt-cheap tickets to Australia compelled us to leave our idyllic beach-wandering existence and hop on a ferry, then on a wagon, then on a train, then spend a night fraternizing with stray cats in the station before our next train arrived after a six hour delay, haggling for a cab, sleeping at the airport, and finally boarding our flight, three days after initially leaving Koh Tao. 

On the plane we met a man who offered us a ride from the airport and dropped us off, after our repeated assurances that he'd taken us to the right place [and, even then, only after we'd agreed to take his business card just in case we wound up in a jam], in front of a dilapidated warehouse, dressed modestly in barbed wire and a broken chain-link fence, at 2:00am local time.

The upstairs loft belonged to a guy Alex had befriended in the States years ago who was off working the mines. He'd left us a "Welcome to 'Straya!" type of note that indicated a gift under the desk, which turned out to be weed and rolling papers; even though neither of us smoke, the gesture had me giddy over its adorableness. In our seven weeks home-basing in Melbourne, during which I'd take short solo trips around the east coast, I never met our host.

The morning after our arrival, we walked through a maze of industrial buildings feeling a dazed mixture of culture-shock and reverse-culture-shock after our months in Asia. It was pure warehouseland, without a residence or business within twenty blocks, and consequently it was a dead silent neighborhood [if you can call it a neighborhood] except around 3am, when teenagers would show up to loudly drift and sometimes wreck their fancy new cars without fear of interruption. Eventually we emerged onto a main road, spotted a tram stop and waddled up to it. In our pockets were Thai baht, Lao kip, Malaysian ringgit, and a few US dollars. The operator shrugged and beckoned us aboard, anyway. Without local currency, electronic devices, local contacts in town, or any idea where we were going or how we'd find our way back, we hopped on without hesitation.

We were home again.